PODCAST: TOUGH GIRL PODCAST
Inspiring the next wave of female adventurers
TOUGH GIRL PODCAST
This week we chat to adventurer Sarah Williams, host of the award-winning Tough Girl Podcast, which features inspirational stories of women in adventure.
Tell us more about the Tough Girl Podcast and what inspired you to begin it?
The Tough Girl Podcast was started in 2015, but to tell you the full story and I have to take you back a couple of years. I had a very normal job, went to University, then moved down to London. I started working in the city, in Wealth Management, which is what I did for about eight years. I got to 32 and thought “This cannot be my life!” So I decided to make some changes.
I had some savings so I went travelling. I climbed Kilimanjaro, then backpacked around America. I spent time in Australia and Europe, did a ski season, wrote a couple of e-books; one on chalet hosting and another on climbing Kilimanjaro.
While I was in South America I thought “Hold on, what do I want to actually do with my life?” At that point, I decided to start Tough Girl Challenges. I wanted to combine my passions: I love to travel and adventure, but was also interested in motivating and inspiring women and girls. Initially, I thought I’d just start blogging about my life adventures, thinking everybody would read it. But it didn’t happen, nothing really happened! No one read my blog, I wasn’t really getting any traction with anything I wanted to do. I was starting with zero on everything… zero on social media, I didn’t know how to create a website, I didn’t know how to write a blog post; it was a massive learning curve.
At the time I was part of a mastermind group and someone suggested that I should start a podcast, that it would be an incredible way to share these adventure stories, so that’s what I did. I started the Tough Girl Podcast on 4th August 2015 with the goal to motivate and inspire women and girls. It’s been going ever since, with new episodes coming out every week initially, and now since lockdown happened they come out twice a week.
Another big driver for starting Tough Girl was that I used to go into a lot of girl’s schools, and give talks about challenge, motivation and inspiration, sharing some of the adventures that I’ve done. I remember talking to a lot of young girls who didn’t have any goals, or their goal was to be a WAG (the wife or girlfriend of a footballer), which I found incredibly disheartening. This was the next generation, and I realised that if I was struggling to find role models in the adventure and exploration space, these young girls didn’t have a chance.
So the Tough Girl Podcast shares these stories of adventurers, explorers and athletes. It gives examples of women doing incredible challenges, from sailing around the world, swimming the English Channel, running the length and breadth of countries… the episodes are jampacked full of inspiration. There are now more than 360 interviews so there are a huge amount of women sharing their stories and giving their best top tips.
What has been your greatest adventure to date?
I would have to say thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2017 – it was one of the toughest things I’d ever done. I learned a lot from that experience. The year previously I had completed the Marathon Des Sables, where you run six marathons in six days across the Sahara Desert. I’d spent eighteen months training for that challenge, and when I finished and got the medal around my neck, straight away my brain said “Right you’ve done that… what’s next?” I had about a minute of joy and satisfaction. It got me thinking that the next challenge I do, I want to be longer.
I came across the Appalachian Trail, but because of other commitments, such as wanting to go to university, growing the business and sharing stories on the podcast, I realised I wouldn’t be able to take off the five or six months most people take to hike the Trail. Then I heard about this guy who did it in 100 days and thought “Well if he can do it I can do it!” I set up off on 3rd June and thru-hiked 2200 miles in 100 days. Looking back I can’t believe how naive I was, and what a huge challenge it was!
So many lessons were learned from that experience, like dealing with a sense of failure every single day because I was never on schedule. I was always behind, chasing every mile. I had to show up every day, even when I was tired, run down, and not in the mood. It taught me that you can have the big dreams and goals but actually you still need to show up and know that you’re making progress, no matter how small the progress seems. I’d look ahead at the map and think “I’m never gonna reach Katahdin, it’s just so far away… I’m giving it my all, and not really making any progress.” But it was also an amazing experience, as I had this opportunity to reflect deeply about my life up to that point, on the Tough Girl Podcast, Tough Girl Challenges, what I’d achieved, where I wanted it to go and what I wanted my life to look like. So that’s been my greatest adventure to date.
What has been the toughest challenge you’ve ever taken on?
To be fair I think the toughest challenge I’ve ever taken on was making this decision to change my life. At 32 I had an established career, which from the outside everyone thought was incredibly successful, working for a big global bank, earning a decent amount of money. I had a lot of friends in London, and this great social life, but I knew that I wasn’t happy and something had to change. The biggest challenge was making that decision, changing the direction of my life, starting in a whole new industry, moving back home with my parents, not earning any money. Starting from scratch I was dealing with everybody else’s judgment over what I was doing, especially at the start when my dream was to become an Adventurer and motivational speaker. People would laugh and nobody understood what a podcast was. I just had to have faith in myself and what I was doing. Now I’m doing it! I’m actually living it now, or rather I was before Covid!
Where is your favourite place on earth?
For me it’s never about the places, it is always about the people that I’m with. I’m very blessed, I’ve been to some incredible places in the world… South America, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, America and Europe, and to be honest it’s always about the people. One of my favourite places is Uluru in Australia, and that was because we had an amazing family holiday with my brother and sister, their partners and my parents. It felt incredibly magical; we were given a tour. We didn’t climb, we walked around it. It was beautiful and inspiring.
Do you prefer to adventure as part of a team or solo?
I would say initially solo. I do you like going off by myself – I loved cycling the Pacific Coast Highway. On the flip-side sometimes I have been lonely and sometimes it would be nice to share the challenge. But there are drawbacks to that. Having to compromise, not having full control over where are you go or stay, always having to take somebody else’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. I haven’t always had the most positive experience when I’ve been part of a team. When I was in Baja, California a lot of people were freaking me out about riding in Mexico by myself. I let those negative thoughts get in my head and ended up joining up with two guys who wanted to do the off-road track ‘The Baja Divide’. Basically they completely let me down, my bike ended up breaking and they just left me in the desert. I got myself out, I had a spot tracker and water, I was fine, but what’s the point in being part of a team if the team are going to let you down that badly? If I had broken my leg or been seriously injured, how long would it have taken for them to come back? There is a vlog about that, with a detailed piece underneath it on YouTube to share my side of the story. I think I’ve had some challenging situations as part of a team.
When you adventure solo you end up meeting so many incredible people. I like the fact that on the trail you can end up having a ‘trail family’. It’s very sociable – meeting with people at campsites and having these big group dinners. But there is no commitment, you can just do your own thing. So I do prefer to adventure solo but I still want it to be sociable.
Do you currently have any adventures planned you can tell us about?
I could talk to you about this for a very, very long time, I’ve got so many adventures planned! One of the things that have enabled me to enjoy lockdown is to look at adventures. I was meant to be hiking the West Highland Way, so that’s ready to go when the time is right. I’m going to do the Tour de Mont Blanc with Cicerone so that’s all planned and ready to go. I’ve been reading up about the Ireland Way – I can catch the ferry to Ireland and thru-hike the length of it which would be incredible. I’ve looked at doing some warm-up hikes walking Anglesey and walking around the Isle of Man.
I’m very fortunate that I’ve got family in Melbourne, Australia so I normally spend three months of the year over in Australia and avoid the British winters. That opens up opportunities on that side of the world. When I was there last year I went with Cicerone and hiked the Overland Track. One adventure I’m considering when it’s safe to travel and there are no border restrictions, will be to hike the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. I’ve got it all planned, I figured out budget, what gear I need… I’m good to go!
What does adventure mean to you?
Easy question for me; adventure is freedom. The freedom to decide where you want to go, what you want to do when you’re there and how you spend your time. Adventure doesn’t have to be big, other-side-of-the-world hikes. It can be closer to home. I think it’s more of a mindset and about how you undertake your day-to-day stuff – Covid has bought that home for me. Even a mini hike can be adventurous. I love doing big trips – a long thru-hike, a big cycle journey – that’s what I really really enjoy. It’s different for everyone. For me, it’s all about freedom, which has been difficult as our freedoms have been limited. But this too shall pass. I am excited for when we can travel and adventure safely in the future.
You can catch up with the Tough Girl Podcast on all of these platforms. Don’t forget to leave a review!
I remember talking to a lot of young girls who didn’t have any goals, or their goal was to be a WAG, which I found incredibly disheartening.
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The Tough Girl Podcast
with Sarah Williams
Tough Girl Challenges was started in 2014 as a way of motivating and inspiring women and girls. My mission is to increase the amount of female role models in the media, with a focus on women who do adventures and undertake big physical challenges. I’m the host of the 2x award-winning Tough Girl Podcast where I interview inspirational female explorers, adventurers, athletes, and everyday women who have overcome great challenges. The podcast is listened to in 174 countries around the world and has passed 1 Million downloads. Based on monthly downloads, the Tough Girl Podcast is in the top 15% of podcasts globally.
I completed the Marathon des Sables in April 2016 (6 marathons in 6 days across the Sahara Desert), in 2017 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail solo and unsupported (2,190 miles) in 100 days (which I also daily vlogged)! In 2018 I cycled over 4,000 km from Vancouver, Canada via the Pacific Coast Highway to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. I have a Masters in Women & Gender Studies from Lancaster University (2018), with my dissertation focusing on “Women, Adventure and Fear”. I am a qualified Yoga Instructor & Personal Trainer (2019).
In September 2019, I walked the Camino Portugués 675km from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain #ChallengeWithCicerone. I ended the year by walking the Lycian Way in Turkey. I started 2020 in Australia, walking the Overland Track in Tasmania. I am now based back in the UK and am looking for my next challenge and adventure!